Effect of expert-patient teaching on empathy in nursing students: a randomized controlled trial
Background: Empathy is a relevant clinical competence for nursing students. Involvement of expert patients in nursing education could help students develop their innate capacity to empathize. Objective: To evaluate the effect of expert-patient teaching on empathy development in nursing students. Methods: This randomized controlled trial was conducted among 144 first-year undergraduate nursing students divided into two equal groups. In the experimental group, the educational intervention consisted of a seminar focused on empathy, followed by a presentation on expert-patient function. Subsequently, each student participated in two interactive meetings with nursing teacher and expert patient. At the end, the nursing teacher encouraged students to reflect on this experience. In the control group, students only attended a similar seminar focused on empathy and afterward participated in two interactive meetings with a nursing teacher to reflect on this topic without expert-patient involvement. Before (T0) and after (T1) the training intervention, the Balanced Emotional Empathy Scale, Jefferson Scale of Empathy - Health Professions Student (JSE-HPS), and a short demographic questionnaire were administered to the two student groups to measure their empathy levels. The study was approved by the Local Ethics Committee of Area Vasta Emilia Nord (protocol 1763, May 11, 2017). Data were statistically analyzed. Results: We found a statistically significant difference between mean scores at T0 and T1 in both scales in the experimental group. Male students, who presented significantly lower levels of empathy at baseline in comparison with females, showed increased in empathy after training on the the Balanced Emotional Empathy Scale in both the experimental and control groups. Conclusion: The present study highlights that involvement of expert patients in teaching is effective in improving empathy levels in both male and female nursing students. Expert-patient teaching can be a promising nursing-education modality for developing empathy.